All he had in his pocket was 'script'. He'd just gotten off the plane and it was late in the evening - all the places on the base he might have gone to swap the 'script' for real money were closed. MCAS El Toro wasn't the biggest base on the West Coast, and they had only just begun to receive troops coming back from tours in 'Nam.
So he stood there.
Thirteen months in Vietnam hadn't changed him much. Not on the outside. Hell, he wasn't even 21 yet - he was still a kid. Being 'in country' for so long hadn't helped his weight, either; he was painfully thin. But he'd managed to get through his time 'over there' with just a couple of new scars. Little scars. Nothing to worry about.
Nobody knew he was back, yet. He hadn't been the best at writing home. He knew if he'd told her what he'd seen, where he'd been, what he'd done, she would have worried. He'd always been a 'no news is good news' kind of guy and she knew that. He knew, also, she didn't like it. But she understood. So no one knew he was due to rotate home.
He stood next to the phone booth outside the barracks and wondered how he was going to make a call.
He looked at the phone and noticed the little placard next to it. He read it, picked up the phone and dialed "0".
"Hello operator? I'd like to place a collect call for 'anyone' to Chicago, please?"
"Chicago, Illinois, Sir?"
"Yes, Ma'am. Lawndale 1-2-0-4-8."
"Your name please?"
"Ma'am? Oh. Packard. Jerry Packard."
"I'll get that number for you. Hold on please?"
"Yes, Ma'am. I'll wait."
The phone was silent for several seconds.
"I'm sorry, Sir, that number has been disconnected."
"Disconnected? That can't be. I don't understand."
"I'm sorry, Sir. I'll try again."
"Thank you, Operator."
She went offline and came back again.
"Sir, that number has been disconnected."
A little panic began to build in his chest. He wanted to call her. He needed to call her. He had to talk to her. He wasn't 'home' until he talked to her.
"Operator, maybe I've got the number wrong .. or maybe there's a new number. Can you look it up?"
"I'm sorry, Sir. I'm long distance. I can't help you."
His throat was so tight he could barely talk.
"Look. Operator. I'm just back from Vietnam and I want to talk to my Mom."
There was a long silence on the other end of the line.
"What's the Subscriber's name in Chicago, Sir?"
"Henrietta Packard. 2221 South Loomis."
"I'll call Information in Chicago. Please hold."
"Yes, Ma'am. Thank you."
The phone clicked as the operator went offline. There was nothing but silence on the phone. She came back online again.
"I'm sorry, Sir, but that number is Non-Published."
He worked really hard at keeping himself steady. Even so, the emotions building in him were starting to filter into his voice.
"Operator, please? She works for the Phone Company. I know they have those records in the Central Office. Can you call her and tell her to call me?"
"I'm sorry, Sir. There's nothing ... Hold on, please."
The line went dead again.
His eyes started to tear up. All the time in 'Nam, all the things he had seen and done, all the people around him that had been hit or died, he had never cried. He didn't want to start now. He closed his eyes and held the phone tight against his ear, hoping to hear her voice.
"Mom? Mom? Mom, it's me. Jerry. I'm home, Mom. I'm comin' home."
Written for The Tenth Daughter of Memory, because Nine Muses are not enough.